Goalless draw at Goodison Park the right result on the balance of play, but Allardyce's side had chances late to end their eight-year wait for a win against their rivals.
Merseyside derby a drab draw as Everton fail to take advantage against weakened Liverpool
It amounted to the downgraded derby. Everton and Liverpool used to contest Cup finals and league titles. Theirs was not the biggest derby in north-west England on Saturday, nor the biggest match of Liverpool’s week.
A stalemate was a game to navigate for Liverpool, an exercise in avoiding injuries and resting legs ahead of their Uefa Champions League rematch with Manchester City. A drab draw was an indication of where Everton are going wrong.
Stripped of ambition, invention and dynamism, they ended up deploying three defensive midfielders at home against a weakened Liverpool side.
“We tried to take full advantage of that opportunity and failed,” said manager Sam Allardyce. With the second half so devoid of incident that it took 25 minutes for a shot of any kind, it was little wonder it ended goalless.
It should not have done. Everton spurned two glorious late chances from similar positions, Cenk Tosun somehow heading wide from Theo Walcott’s cross, with Seamus Coleman almost touching the Turk’s effort in, and then substitute Dominic Calvert-Lewin skewing a shot wide.
“That is the biggest miss of the day and the biggest chance of the day,” Allardyce added. “I think everyone would agree Liverpool were much more pleased when the final whistle went.”
Yet victory would have flattered Everton. Those instants were a microcosm of a rivalry. This was Everton’s big chance. They have not beaten Liverpool since 2010 and the record unbeaten run in derby history was instead extended.
Nor have they overcome top-six opponents since the 4-0 evisceration of Manchester City 15 months ago, and a wretched run against the best now amounts to 16 games.
Everton were too timid and too poor in possession. “Our passing at times got a bit woeful,” Allardyce said.
Liverpool suffered more from unfamiliarity. Roberto Firmino, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Trent Alexander-Arnold were confined to cameos and Andrew Robertson and the unfit Mohamed Salah were omitted altogether to save them for City. They missed the superlative Salah in every respect.
“We didn’t even think about him,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said. “Why should we?” When the influential James Milner was removed for the final quarter, it felt another concession to the Champions League game.
When Alberto Moreno withdrew with a thigh injury, Liverpool had three teenagers on the bench. There was a different look to them, with Sadio Mane the only member of their 77-goal front three to start.
Instead of potency, there was a statistical interest. Danny Ings made his first Premier League start in 916 days or, to put it another way, since Brendan Rodgers’ valedictory game. That brought his last Liverpool goal.
Another understudy had early chances to score his first. But, after 23 games, Dominic Solanke is still yet to open his account. First he headed wide. Then, when the ball fell invitingly after Nathaniel Clyne crossed, his shot was directed too close to Jordan Pickford, who made a terrific save.
The right-back was making a belated first start of an injury-hit season. If his presence was welcome, that was another sign this was a patched-up side. Other changes have been more lasting.
There was a further indication Klopp was correct to install Loris Karius as his first-choice goalkeeper. The German made a tremendous save to deny the otherwise abject Yannick Bolasie a second goal in as many games. The Everton winger was left jumping in exaggerated frustration when his curling shot was tipped past the post. “A hell of a save,” Allardyce said.
There was another example of goalkeeping excellence, Pickford diving to his left to keep out Milner’s whipped shot, but both shot-stoppers were spectators for long periods.
“For 75 minutes we were completely in charge,” Klopp said. This amounted to an audition for Georginio Wijnaldum, playing in the deeper role he could occupy against City, when Jordan Henderson is suspended. The Dutchman impressed, with Everton the inferior team in midfield.
For the second successive week, the ineffectual Wayne Rooney was removed in the first hour, unhappy to be substituted. “We needed more legs and we needed to get him about more,” Allardyce said. “Nobody is too big to be hooked off.’”
The most famous Evertonian of all had least to savour as Everton improved without him. But not enough.